Project Red Dress
Two AMDT students learned this semester that a cause they supported—eliminating heart disease in women— also measured the strength of their own hearts to push their limits as fashion designers.
Carlie Bailes and Casey Burnette joined ten other up-and-coming designers for the fourth annual Project Red Dress competition in January that culminated in a gala fashion show on February 3 at the Fairmont Olympic Hotel in Seattle. Established by Monir Zandghoreishi, a Seattle designer and International Academy of Design and Technology (IADT) fashion design program chair, Project Red Dress raises awareness of, and money for, the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women movement.
The event also offers Pacific Northwest fashion design students an opportunity to showcase their talents and win a scholarship. Patterned on TV’s Project Runway, each contestant attends four dressmaking workshops totaling 16 hours in which to design and sew a dress from only red fabric and embellishments, the result of which is then modeled and judged at the fashion show. Competitors also get only one fitting with their models before sending them down the runway.
AMDT Professor Dr. Catherine Black nominated Bailes and Burnette for the competition after seeing how both participated in activities outside of the classroom—Bailes in an undergraduate research project and Burnette as president of WSU’s student chapter of the American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists.
“They are outstanding students,” Black said, “and they represented us very well. They were also very articulate on the runway when they were describing their designs.”
Bailes’ inspiration for her design was a red rose. She chose vinyl for the straps, representing the flower’s thorns and stems—its edginess and hardness. Matte satin for the main dress material captured the softness of a rose petal—the more feminine and more sophisticated part of the ensemble.
“This goes to the type of woman I like to design for,” Bailes said, “…edgy and feminine at the same time.”
Burnette’s design (pictured above) was inspired by ocean waves and tree roots from her study abroad in Milan, Italy. She used red satin, pre-pleated silk, and lace to evoke waves rolling in. She also took the advice of the designer who taught the study-abroad course.
“My professor told me to ‘free my mind like a child,’” Burnette said.
Both students soon learned that designing and then creating a dress in only 16 hours stretched their endurance. This was especially true because other competing designers were located on the west side of the state and didn’t have to travel five hours—or be stuck in Pullman because of bad weather—to participate. The first day, Burnette said, was the real test of their mettle.
“It was exhausting,” she said. “When you’re done, you feel like you’ve been hit by a train.”
“I felt like I was behind after seeing others who were faster,” Bailes said. “But I had to remember that the pace changes during different phases of construction.”
Bailes and Burnette competed against students from IADT, Art Institute of Seattle, New York Fashion Academy, Seattle Central Community College, and Seattle Pacific University. And while skill levels varied among the participants, one thing united them: the capacity for things to go wrong at any time—a hem that needed to be shortened; a bodice that had to be seam-ripped and re-pinned; and, in one contestant’s case, re-cutting the entire dress after discovering it was too small.
But the fashion show rewarded all participants for their hard work and frayed nerves. Bailes and Burnette also had family members attending to cheer them on, including a large contingent of Pullman friends, as well as Black and Dr. Karen Leonas, AMDT department chair.